Sometimes I’m surprised at where I end up.
Last week I spent three days in D.C. as one of 300 at the Bread for the World National Gathering, a boot camp of sorts for hunger advocacy. Bread, the organization’s nickname among fans, advocates for the socioeconomically underserved (more commonly called “the poor”) through legislation reform, answering Jesus’ call to defense of and justice for those with less than we.
The church influencing the state: crazy, right?!
Not as crazy as you might think.
After three days of vigilant notes and fuzzy Blackberry photos I spent this past week reflecting on what I learned over the weekend and how the enormous amount information ties into my job and my life. I’ll be processing this information and future lessons from Bread for a long time, but so far I’ve come up with four thoughts that I’ll keep with me. I like lists and you probably like lists, so here we go:
1. “Us vs. them”
A common argument against domestic and foreign social programs (including foreign aid) is that we need to take care of ourselves before we take care of others. Why do we consider ourselves (Americans) a separate tribe from the rest of the world? We could answer that a thousand different ways, but my point is this: when you start thinking of yourself as a global citizen, foreign aid doesn’t seem so foreign because “ourselves” and “others” become the same people.
Helping Zambian potato farmers through federal foreign aid is just as important as supporting the federal and state tax bases that provide for WIC and your local school district. You may not know that Zambian farmer or the mother using WIC, but you do know the kids in your local school district. Strangers are just as important as friends regardless of your relationship with them.
2. Multisectoral support
Several themes sprung up on day three of the National Gathering, during which a fascinating panel of international leaders spoke on their respective country’s needs and accomplishments regarding maternal and childhood undernutrition. Almost every speaker mentioned the need for multisectoral support, or in other words, cooperation between the private sector (non-profits, the people, businesses) and the public sector (governments, including federal, state, and other countries).
Typically aid comes in two forms: private, typically from a non-profit; or public, usually federal aid from a federal budget. Generally governments provide funding for development projects while the private sector provides direct services. If the two ideas could go hand in hand, we would have sustainable progress for a less hungry world.
3. Church and state
Ah, the First Amendment, every journalist’s soap box and shield. Some people question the church and state relationship when it comes to Bread’s mission, mostly because even the smell of church and state interaction makes the hair stand up on any American’s neck. Well, friends, the First Amendment’s policy on church and state is a one-way street. The amendment says the government can’t influence the church (or any establishment of religion), not also that the church can’t influence the government.
On top of that, Bread isn’t a church or “the Church.” It’s a group of Christians, some of whom may not even go to church. To say Bread’s interaction with legislation violates the First Amendment would also mean that any other faith-based group of voters shouldn’t act to influence their government. Furthermore, the First Amendment actually encourages the people “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” or say to the government, “Hey, we don’t like what you’re doing!” Thus, democracy.
“Discretionary” has been a dirty word for me since the near government shut down a couple of months ago. “Discretionary” programs felt the blade of the budget guillotine left and right as politicians balanced the budget on the backs of those who can’t afford to pay taxes in the first place. The adjective “discretionary” means optional or disposable, as in one makes a choice to exercises discretion.
Every program is discretionary because funding it is a choice. The military budget is discretionary. Social Security is discretionary. Head Start funding is discretionary. Tax cuts to large corporations are discretionary.
It’s a lie that there’s not enough money to fund social programs. The money just isn’t going into the piggy banks that support those social programs. To say certain social programs are “discretionary” is to say the results of those programs and the people affected by those programs are also discretionary: disposable, an option. As an American, that idea is insulting to me. Congress’s priorities are in black and white in the budget legislation.
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Have you ever had a rough morning, one classified by my favorite hash tag, #facepalm? If you’re like me, once in a while the perfect frozen mocha will turn your morning around with one delightful sip. The Bread conference was that refresher for me– it infused my brain and heart with powerful information. None of it was politically biased or a fundraiser, and all of it was inspiring and enlightening.
I didn’t attend Bread’s workshop on the church and state question and I’m not an expert on the church, any organized religion, or the government. I’m also not an expert on the economy or development. But as a member of “the unwashed masses,” as Alexander Hamilton would say, my words matter as much as those on Capitol Hill.
That’s my take, and as always, these are my own personal views and not necessarily those of my affiliated institutions.